Have you ever wondered, “What does the Bible say about marriage?” If so, this article is for you. In the beginning, when the world was young and harmony reigned, God blessed the first marriage, between Adam and Eve. After Adam was created, there was nothing in the creation like him, and God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone”. God created and brought Eve to Adam. Created in God’s image and Adam’s equal, Eve was “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh” as Adam put it.
Adam and Eve had one another in this brave new world – someone who was an equal but different and complementary. Since people are made in God’s image, it makes sense that Adam and Eve had an innate desire for relationship and that it wouldn’t be good for either of them to be alone. As descendants of Adam and Eve, all of us are the result of this first marriage.
Cut to the 21st century, where many struggle with the relevance of the institution of marriage. Despite our difficulties with marriage, there is a beauty to the way marriage brings two lives together and the two become one flesh, one new family unit when they leave their parents and cleave to one another (Genesis 2:24).
This “leaving and cleaving” creates a committed space of unashamed intimacy within which a man and woman build a life together. What can we continue to learn from the Bible about marriage?
What Does the Bible Say About Marriage?
It is good
One of the things the Bible says about marriage is that it is good. The book of ancient wisdom called Proverbs puts it this way: “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). Presumably, she who finds a husband also finds what is good.
Again, this makes sense in light of human nature and our inclination toward being in relationship with others, including this most intimate of human relationships. The marriage relationship is a life-long commitment (Romans 7:2). All things being equal, weddings are generally a time of celebration.
In some liturgies, the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) where Jesus turned water into wine is mentioned as another divine endorsement of marriage. If God was behind marriage when the world was perfect and the specter of arguments and divorce was absent, the wedding at Cana shows us God still endorsing marriage even in our broken world. It is good, and it is worth celebrating.
It is a mystery
Of all the things one could say about marriage, one apt description is that it is a mystery. It’s a mystery in a least two ways. First, despite our culture’s fractious relationship with marriage, the vast majority of people are still drawn towards making the public and lifelong commitment that is marriage.
Second, and more important, reflecting on marriage while writing to Christians in the city of Ephesus, the apostle Paul brings up what was said in Genesis 2 and reminds these believers that when two people get married, something monumental takes place – the two become one flesh.
But then he says that human marriage is an echo of the relationship that Jesus has with his church. This is a “profound mystery”, he says (Ephesians 5:32). It’s a bit mind-bending, but human marriage is patterned after and is an echo of the relationship between Christ and his people. Getting married draws you inadvertently into something beyond yourself, something timeless and cosmic – profound mystery indeed.
It isn’t for everyone
Even though marriage is a good gift, it isn’t for everyone. There are some for whom the celibate life is their calling. Both Jesus and Paul make this point. Some people have made the choice to remain single “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus continues, saying, “Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:12).
In other words, some people may decide to stay single to maintain an unswerving focus on the kingdom. Paul puts it this way:
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him…if you do marry, you have not sinned… I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. – 1 Corinthians 7:17, 28, 32
In other words, if you want to get married, that’s great, but marriage comes with certain responsibilities or anxieties, and you must be aware of that. If you want to stay single, that’s also great. The single life enables a certain kind of unbroken focus on the kingdom. In other words, the calling toward either marriage or singleness is morally neutral; each life comes with its own joys and burdens.
It’s not perfect
Marriage is not perfect because the people in it aren’t perfect. The reality is that people no longer get married in the blissful context of Genesis 1 and 2. Married life is now way more complicated than that. Coming after Adam and Eve and their rebellion, all marriage now happens in the context and shadow of Genesis 3.
Adam went from composing poetry for Eve, his beloved wife, saying, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23) to blaming her for his disobedience of God’s command: “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some of the fruit from the tree, and I ate it”, he says (Genesis 3:12).
She’s now merely “The woman”. Humanity moved from loving adoration to shifting blame to one another, from being both “naked and unashamed” (Genesis 2:25) to covering our nakedness and hiding ourselves and our motives from one another and God.
Instead of mutual care and self-giving, there is now selfishness, inordinate desire and seeking dominance over the other (Genesis 3:16). Sin entered our lives, complicating and twisting this beautiful relationship given to us by God.
It should be protected
Because we are not perfect and we’re getting married in a post-Genesis 3 world, marriages are fragile and need protection from the people in (and those not in) them. The Bible is full of warnings against adultery, but it also concerns itself with harmful attitudes between husbands and wives that undermine love, mutual appreciation, warmth, forgiveness and so on.
It also addresses the harmful attitudes of others who are not in the marriage and who don’t take the marriage covenant seriously. The letter to the Hebrews says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).
God is aware of the world we live in, the temptations and challenges we encounter in daily life. Sometimes the spouses in a marriage, or the people close to them, don’t honor the marriage covenant. This can have dire consequences for all involved.
It’s a partnership
A marriage is a partnership in which both spouses have a role to play and something to contribute to the nurture and health of the relationship, and any children that may come from the marriage. Both the husband and wife have a role to play in instructing their children and in how they relate to each other.
“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction,” says Proverbs 1:8, “and do not forsake your mother’s teaching”. Paul talks about the framework within which our relationships work. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”, he writes in Ephesians 5:21.
There is to be a conciliatory attitude in the marriage relationship to help that relationship flourish, so when we talk about “submission” and “loving one another,” it is not about sublimating your personality or strength but about leveraging it toward making the marriage work. This requires the work and wisdom of the Holy Spirit in us.
Christian Couples Counseling
Our marriages need strengthening and for us to grow in listening, handling conflict and hardship in a constructive manner. Couples counseling is a great way to continue this growth and address any underlying unaddressed issues so that your marriage flourishes.
Whether you are encountering persistent difficulties within your marriage or simply want to continue working toward a flourishing marriage, prayerfully consider Christian couples counseling with your spouse.
“Bride and Groom”, Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wedding in Abruzzo”, Courtesy of Foto Pettine, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love”, Courtesy of freestocks, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Putting the Ring on the Finger”, Courtesy of Sir Manuel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License