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.