MDR: The Biblical model for marriage

As we study divorce and remarriage today, our understanding is colored not only by the scriptures that address the issues, but also our own culture and history-religious and civil. It will help if we go back to the beginning.[1]

(Gen. 1:27) So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

When God created the heavens and earth, he created man as both male and female, and specifically intended that they “be fruitful,” that is, have children. The sexual joining of husband and wife was part of God’s plan in Eden — before sin entered the world. More detail is offered in Genesis 2:

18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

Before God made Eve, Adam was alone. Indeed, this is the only part of the new creation that God found “not good” — God had said of all else that he had made, “It is good.” Of course, Adam already had one companion — God himself. God found that Adam had needs that even God could not meet by himself. And so God presented Adam with every animal that God had made, and none of the animals was a suitable helper either.

21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he 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,’ for she was taken out of man.”

Here we need to make three points:

First, clearly, the suitable helper that Adam needed could neither be a superior (God) nor an inferior (an animal), but had to be an equal-“bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Indeed, Adam’s declaration of Eve as “flesh of my flesh” clearly demonstrates the oneness and equality of husband and wife that existed before sin entered the world.[2]

Second, as the Jewish rabbis taught long before Christ (and as preachers today frequently say at weddings), God did not choose to make Eve from a foot, so that her husband should tread on her, or from his head, so that she should rule over him, but rather God made Eve from Adam’s rib, so that she should be at his side.

Third, the phrase “suitable helper,” or “help meet” in the King James Version, has often been misunderstood. In English “helper” often indicates inferiority-a subordinate. But in Hebrew, the word translated “helper” is most often used to refer to God-typically as Israel’s ally against its enemies. It hardly indicates inferiority! It would be better translated as “ally,” “comrade,” or “complement”-one which makes up what is lacking or one who stands alongside to fight together.

The passage continues-

24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Moses, the inspired author of Genesis, concludes that a husband is to be one with his wife-one flesh. And surely Moses meant more by “united” and “one flesh” than the sex act (hardly the definition of marriage). Paul’s commentary on this passage gives us a deeper understanding-

Eph. 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church — 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Paul is teaching Christians by expounding on Genesis 2, and he concludes that the notion of “one flesh” is much broader than sexual relations — it includes mutual submission, love, respect, and sacrifice.[3]

[1] The significance of Genesis 1-3 in male-female and husband-wife relationships is considered in much more detail in Buried Talents.

[2] Contrast God’s curse in Genesis 3:16, “[Your husband] will rule over you” resulting from sin. Plainly, in sinless Eden, Adam did not rule Eve.

[3] Paul routinely refers to Genesis 1 and 2 when teaching on marriage, sex, or divorce, following Jesus’ example in Matt. 19. For example, 1 Cor. 6:16; 1 Cor. 11:7-9; 1 Tim. 2:13-14. Paul doesn’t arbitrarily legislate rules — rather, he urges us to return to the relationship between husbands and wives that prevailed before sin entered the world.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to MDR: The Biblical model for marriage

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    Any idiot can look at the Bible and see that God planned for one woman to marry one man and remain married forever. What we failed in the church today was to teach the skills to young children to guard their heart and then to give it away. We failed to teach them how to work at a covenant with one person. We failed to teach and train communication skills, biblical financial principles and a whole list of other things. These are reasons that divorce is so high. If we want to actually reduce the divorce rate we will do something about besides teaching against divorce. It is not working! I have never known a couple who was intent on divorcing that stopped because of sermon they heard against divorce. However I know many people who saved their marriage because they came to understand God's grace in the true Gospel!

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