The Divine Institution: Understanding Biblical Marriage and its Purposes
Biblical marriage, as described in the Bible, is a covenantal relationship between one man and one woman, established by God, with the purpose of companionship, unity, and mutual support. Biblical marriage is intended to reflect the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the universal Church.
However, before we can understand Biblical marriage, we must begin by establishing who initiated and defined the institution, and what perimeters were put in place. Once we have established these matters, we can begin to understand the meaning of marriage, its purposes, and its blessings. As children of God our identity, truth and world view are established by God because we recognize the He is the Creator and we are His created. We see this reality revealed in the very first verse in scripture.
GEN. 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Since God is the Creator, and we His creation, He is the one who defines what is true and just. We learn about this truth through His word, which guides our understanding of important topics like marriage, sex, life, work, and finances. Therefore, as believers, we rely on God's word to form our worldview because we recognize His ultimate authority as the Creator.
Within Chapter 2 of Genesis, God outlines the very means by which marriage is defined and between whom marriage is instituted:
GEN. 2:18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
GEN. 2:19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. 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.
GEN. 2:20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
GEN. 2:21 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 then closed up the place with flesh.
GEN. 2:22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man and he brought her to the man.
GEN. 2:23 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.”
GEN. 2:24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
GEN. 2:25 And the man and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed.
In these verses, we see God’s design and purpose of marriage begin to be outlined. God created man first, Adam, and recognized that it was not good for him to be alone. God then created a suitable helper for him – a woman named Eve. The word “helper” is the Hebrew word ezer which means “one who comes alongside”. (We also find this word used in Exodus18:4; Deuteronomy 33:29; Psalm 10:14; 27:9; 118:7; Hosea 13:9). We can take this to mean the woman is to be a partner, a companion made to complement man so that together they can achieve what neither could alone.
In terms of Biblical marriage, the first aspect we see in vv18-22 is that God defines this covenant first and foremost with one man and one woman – a heterosexual union. So God's design for marriage in the Bible is between a man (male) and a woman (female), as exemplified in the creation of Adam and Eve. This lays the groundwork for God’s design for reproduction as mentioned in Genesis 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.
GEN: 1:28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Furthermore, God’s original design for Woman showed He intended for her to hold equality with Man. Woman was made from Adam’s “rib” (flesh and bone), which is the Hebrew word tsela meaning “side". Added to the use of ezer in v14, God is creating the picture of Man and Woman coming alongside each other in partnership. Next, Adam gives her the name Woman, which means “wife” and interestingly enough when referring to himself, uses a different word for man (than Adam) which means “husband". So, here we have the union of wife and husband consummated by the Creator.
The second notable aspect of Biblical marriage we see in Genesis 2:23-25 is the intimacy of the “one-flesh” relationship God reserved for marriage. Even Jesus spoke to the importance of this principle:
MATTHEW 19:5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?
MATTHEW 19:6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
In the unique way that God made woman out of man, the relationship is defined as being one body, inseparable, and as such lays the foundation that every marriage results in an equally inseparable union.
Based on Genesis 2:24, we learn that the marriage relationship is considered sacred in God’s view because of how the first marriage was ordained. With the reality that Adam and Eve were literally made from one flesh how could they ever consider themselves to be two distinct people again? No more than you could consider your own arm or leg to be foreign to the rest of your body. How could they ever separate?
Another question that stems from what we discussed earlier is what biblical marriage looks like, practically, today. Building on the framework of biblical marriage in Genesis, now we move to the New Testament authors as they explain further truths concerning marriage:
EPH. 5:22 Wives, subject yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
EPH. 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.
EPH. 5:24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
EPH. 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
EPH. 5:26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
EPH. 5:27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
EPH. 5:28 So husbands also ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;
EPH 5:29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,
EPH 5:30 because we are parts of His body.
EPH. 5:31 for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
EPH. 5:32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
EPH. 5:33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
In Ephesians, Paul is in the midst of teaching the church about six relationships where submission is required. In Chapter 5, the focus is on marriage and how both husbands and wives, simultaneously, are called to submit to each other in different ways. It emphasizes the idea that marriage is meant to reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church, and as such, the roles and responsibilities of both partners should be viewed through that lens.
To start, Paul instructs wives to be subject to their own husbands as to the Lord. Here, the Greek word for “subject” is a military term that implies voluntary subjection to a higher authority. Like a soldier enlisting in the military willingly subjects himself to the authority of his superiors, so also a wife willingly subjects herself to her husband. This does not mean that the husband has absolute power over the wife, but rather that the husband has been given a position of leadership in the marriage and the wife is called to respect and support that authority.
Similarly, husbands are called to love their wives in a self-sacrificial way, putting her needs above his own and striving to nurture and care for them. This requires a level of humility and submission on the part of the husband, as he recognizes the superior place of his wife's needs in the marriage and home. The standard for how this should look in practice is Christ's example with the Church, where His sacrificial love is evident in His willingness to lay down His life on the cross for His people. In verse 26, Paul speaks of Christ’s cleansing of the Church through the washing of His word. As we come to believe the testimony of the word of God declaring the Gospel, we are washed clean of our sins, being baptized by the Holy Spirit, Who comes to live in us at the moment of faith in Christ. Verse 27 goes on to say that Christ made His sacrifice so that He might present the Church to Himself in all her glory, without blemish or defect. In light of this truth husbands are to sacrifice themselves for the goal of glorifying their wives, and making them more holy, just as Christ did for us.
Additionally, a husband who sacrificially loves his wife gains spiritual benefits, as stated in 1 Peter 3:7:
1PET. 3:7 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
When two believers enter into marriage, their eternal relationship as “fellow heirs” takes precedence over any earthly concerns. As they serve one another in love and respect, they not only strengthen their marriage relationship, but also have a unique opportunity to influence each other's spiritual growth and sanctification. Since both husband and wife are part of the body of Christ, their actions and attitudes in marriage can have a direct impact on the growth of the body of Christ as a whole. In this way, the marriage relationship becomes a vital component of a believer's journey towards spiritual maturity and becoming more like Christ. As husbands and wives submit to one another, they are transformed and refined by the power of the Holy Spirit, growing in faith and becoming more effective witnesses for Christ.
A healthy marriage involves a partnership where both husband and wife work together in making decisions and running the household, reflecting the harmony of a family operating in submission to authority under the Lord. However, differences of opinion between husbands and wives are inevitable. According to the word of God, the husband is the final authority in the home, and the wife must submit to his authority even when she disagrees. While this may seem reasonable in principle, it is put to the test each and every day. True biblical submission means obeying even when you don’t agree – a challenging call that is counter to what culture teaches today. In verse 22 Paul says that a wife’s willingness to respect her husband’s authority is comparable to her willingness to obey the Lord. A husband’s authority is not based on his daily performance, but on his identity as husband. In the same way we are to obey Christ as head of the Church, so wives should respect and obey their husbands as head of the household.
As we strive to understand the purpose of marriage, we must also remember that God's goal for us in this life – and therefore in marriage – isn't necessarily our happiness, but rather our holiness. Practically speaking, Christian couples who place Christ at the center of their marriage are constantly seeking His guidance, wisdom, and grace in order to better serve the Lord and each other. They pray and study the Bible together, and endeavor to live out the teachings of Christ in their marriage, including sacrificial love, forgiveness, and humility. Furthermore, they remain committed to resolving conflicts and growing in their relationship with each other and with God, both physically and spiritually.
When a husband and wife live according to scripture:
it enables both parties to become perfect complements to one another, fulfilling their respective roles as designed and created by God.
they have opportunities to positively influence the spiritual growth of their partner as a fellow heir of the grace of God, further benefitting the larger Church body.
their godly marriage serves its missional purpose of reflecting the love and sacrifice of Christ to the world. Through their actions and words, a Christ-centered marriage becomes a beacon of hope and an inspiration to others, drawing them closer to God.
The truth of scripture affirms that both men and women are created in the image of God, and as such, they possess equal dignity, worth, and purpose. Marriage is a partnership where husband and wife are called to complement each other, working together as a team to use their unique strengths, gifts, and abilities for the glory of God. It is important to recognize that no marriage is without challenges, but seeking to live out biblical principles can provide a solid foundation for a healthy, God-honoring, and fulfilling relationship. Ultimately, a biblical marriage presents a divine opportunity to bear witness to the Savior who died to make us holy, shining His light for the world to see.