Some topics are more personal than others and tend to trigger more emotional reactions. Food and holidays, for example. Or “is that dress white and gold or blue and black” and, of course, marriage and sexual relations.
Although the Bible has a lot to say about marriage, it never explicitly answers the question, “What is marriage?” Probably for the same reason it doesn’t give a precise definition for travel, war, and sacrifice. Everyone in the Bible’s original audience already knew what marriage was, so why waste expensive paper and ink explaining it.
Our world, on the other hand, has become so full of confusion that we need to spell out even the most basic ideas. So, let me begin at the beginning…
Adam gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field, but the man could not find a helper fit for him. So YHWH God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that YHWH God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (ishah), because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
This passage gives us the three most important elements of the definition of marriage.
- Marriage exists to help a man fulfill his assigned role in Creation.
- Marriage is meant to be a lifelong union of a man and woman.
- Marriage was instituted by God from the very beginning.
Marriage Exists to Help Man Fulfill His Mission
Although Genesis 1:28 records that the first collective mission of mankind was to be a caretaker over the earth and all life on it, Adam’s first individual assignment was to evaluate all of the other creatures to see if one of them might serve as a special helper for him. Of course, God knew that none of them would, but he had Adam go through this process so that the man would also know. When Adam was satisfied that none of the animals would meet his requirements, God created a woman, whom Adam named Eve.
Adam and most other creatures were created from the ground, but Eve was created directly from Adam. God didn’t create Eve from Adam’s head or foot, but from his side, showing that she wasn’t supposed to rule over him nor be his slave, but was supposed to be a peer. The woman was to be more like the man than any other creature in heaven or earth, a counterpart who would rule over and care for the earth together with him.
Eve wasn’t created to be exactly like Adam, though, or else God would have created another man and made them hermaphrodites or capable of parthenogenesis. Woman shares in the collective purpose of mankind as God’s stewards on earth, but each woman does so primarily by assisting her husband in his individual mission.
For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
1 Corinthians 11:8-9 ESV
I know that doesn’t sit well with many people, but it is the plain teaching of Scripture. Eve was created specifically to be a helper for Adam, and Paul asserts that this principle applies within all marriages.
While the original task of humanity was to be a caretaker of God’s creation, the Fall necessitated a change in mission parameters. Our task now is to expand the Kingdom of God through procreation, evangelism, establishing justice, and generally doing good works according to God’s standards of justice and good. How each individual and family participates in this mission varies in as many ways as there are individuals and families, but you can know this with absolute certainty: A woman’s divinely appointed mission will never be at odds with her husband’s.
All kinds of things can prevent us from fulfilling marriage’s full purpose: illness and other circumstances that might be out of our control, the husband isn’t fulfilling his calling, or the wife isn’t fulfilling hers. However, our circumstances and failings can’t change the reason God created marriage.
Marriage Is a Lifelong Union
Genesis 2:24 says that the relationship of Adam and Eve is to be a pattern for all marriages, that a new marriage is inaugurated when a man leaves his father and mother to become one flesh with his wife.
“One flesh” implies that they are united in a way that would be painful and unnatural to separate and Yeshua confirmed this understanding when he said “They are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (See Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-9.)
“Leaves his father and mother” doesn’t necessarily mean that he physically leaves their dwelling place. The Scriptural example is for extended families normally to live close together, frequently on the same land, and obedience to God’s instructions for the use of the land in Israel requires this. What this statement actually means is that the man steps outside of the nuclear family unit into which he was born and creates a new family still under the broad umbrella of his father’s clan and tribe.
This also doesn’t mean that marriage cannot be ended. God hates both divorce and death, but both happen, whether for good or bad, and both end a marriage. I’ll write more about this another time, but the Torah, Prophets, Yeshua, and Apostles all discuss when it is and is not appropriate to end a marriage. Divorce should be avoided because it breaks something that God didn’t want to be broken, but it is still possible.
Marriage Was Instituted by God
From the very beginning, God intended mankind to be male and female and to be joined in a union that he uses as a metaphor of his relationship with Israel.
Like the Sabbath, marriage was created for mankind’s benefit. Both parties, as well as their children, benefit from the arrangement, especially if it is conducted according to all of God’s instructions. However, also like the Sabbath, God created marriage because it suited his purposes. Every good master provides his servants with the tools necessary to accomplish his assigned tasks. The servant benefits because his job is made easier and more enjoyable. The master benefits because the servant is able to do a better job with greater economy.
Also like the Sabbath, marriage is not a man-made custom and man doesn’t get to define it. People today insist that they can make marriage whatever they want it to be: a man and another man, a woman and herself, and every other perversion one can imagine. Yet, Yeshua said that marriage is “what God has joined together”, so there can be no real question on this score. God makes the rules, not us.
Marriage was the very first government and was created by God to serve as the core of ministry, labor, justice, and civilization. It is a model of God and of our relationship to God and, as God is one (Hebrew echad), man and woman are to be one in spirit and flesh. Marriage benefits us and was created to help us in the work for which we were created, but ultimately both we and marriage belong to God and we have a responsibility to him to protect and honor it.
Everything that Yeshua (aka Jesus) & the Apostles taught
Come with me as I draw out the connections that are so often missed