What does the Bible say about marriage?

July 25, 2019

We live in a time of confusion. Throughout most of American history, marriage didn’t have to be defined. Americans understood that marriage was between one man and one woman for life.

But it’s clear that in our society, the church cannot ignore the duty to teach believers—and the world—what the Bible says about marriage and it’s goodness. 

What is marriage?

The Bible begins talking about marriage in Genesis—the first book of the Bible. Why? Marriage is a part of the creation story. God created humans in his own image, and he created male and female distinct from one another (Gen. 1:27). He created Eve because it was “not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), and he brought them together in a union. He ordained marriage as the most intimate form of relationship on earth, where husband and wife work together in a complementary way. 

Genesis 2:22-24 describes the first marriage:

Then the Lord God made the rib he had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. And the man said: 
This one, at last, is bone of my bone
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called “woman,”
for she was taken from man.
This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.

From Genesis 1 and 2, we understand marriage to be a lifelong, monogamous, covenantal, and complementary relationship between one man and one woman.

In this first marriage, Adam clearly delighted in his wife. God’s design was for a man to break away from the relationship with his parents as his priority in order to be joined with his wife and be exclusively committed to her. The phrase “one flesh” is important, too. Two individuals become one in this mysterious, bodily, spiritual, one-flesh union. 

Furthermore, the phrase in traditional wedding vows “till death do us part” is founded on biblical teaching that the marriage union is intended to be a life-long union. 

During his earthly ministry, Jesus taught about the timelessness of marriage. The union between a husband and wife is a union that God joined together, so no one—not husband, wife, or anyone else—has authority to separate this union (Mark 10:9). Traditionally, many Christians have understood the Bible to teach that divorce is only acceptable in cases of sexual immorality (Matt. 19:9) and abandonment (1 Cor. 7:15).  

Biblically speaking, then, marriage is the union between one man and one woman for life. Any other definition is a perversion of its true meaning. 

Marriage is not the only good

There is more to life than marriage, so the Church must be careful to not uphold marriage as the only good. 

The apostle Paul also encouraged single men and women to remain unmarried because the unmarried believer can give undivided concern to the things of the Lord. The married believer, however, must be committed to the concerns of his or her spouse (1 Cor. 7:32-34). Because of this, Paul argues that unmarried believers have a unique opportunity to devote themselves to the Lord. 

As the Church, let’s honor marriage without demonizing singleness. Let’s remember that the ultimate goal in life is not having a husband or a wife. As we press on toward Christ, let’s not idolize the good gift he intended as an imperfect and temporary reflection of himself and Church.

Marriage is still good

Traditionally, the Church has upheld marriage as a good thing, but perhaps we need to be reminded of why it is good. Going back to the creation story, we see that God established this union in the beginning and blessed it. God blessed Adam and Eve in their relationship and gave them responsibilities to carry out together. 

In Genesis 1:28, we see that one of these responsibilities was to procreate. God intended for Adam and Eve to fill the earth. Today, every married couple who has children joins in on this blessing, fulfilling God’s command to fill the earth. 

Scripture also teaches that sex is specifically intended for married couples. Hebrews 13:4 states, “Marriage is to be honored by all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers.” Whether married or single, we honor our holy God by honoring the marriage bed as holy, which means reserving physical intimacy for a man and a woman who are one flesh.  

The blessings of marriage point us to the goodness of marriage. Solomon celebrates marriage in Proverbs, recognizing that a man who finds a wife finds a good thing (Prov. 18:22). And the teacher in Ecclesiastes teaches that the days of one’s life are fleeting, but it is good for a man to enjoy those days with his wife (Eccl. 9:9).

Furthermore, the Bible teaches us that marriage is a good thing because it is a picture of something better: it points us to Christ. The relationship between the groom and his bride is supposed to be a visible image of the relationship between God and his people. Paul declared this is Ephesians 5:31-32: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Marriage is a gospel issue. The marriage union between man and wife is intended to be a tangible demonstration of the love God has for us in Christ. Our union with Christ is the reason for a one-flesh union in marriage.  It’s the earthly, imperfect picture of the eternally perfect love of God. In the Bible, God presents himself as the bridegroom of his people—the Church. Marriage was created as the most intimate relationship to be experienced on earth, and it is intended to illustrate the intimacy God wants to have with the human beings he created. 

We should not be intimidated by the role marriage is supposed to play in mirroring God’s relationship with his people. Rather, our understanding of this role should humble us and lead us to honor and uphold marriage as a good gift from God, especially in a culture moving farther away from God’s design.

Marissa Postell

Marissa Postell serves as the managing editor of LifewayResearch.com. As a writer, she hopes to tell compelling narratives to equip the church to live on mission for the kingdom of God. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24