What does the Bible say about marriage?
Listening to the Bible can be hard when everyone else is so loud. Lawmakers weigh in on who can marry. Enterprising wedding planners make millions telling us how to tie the knot. Scores of folks advise us on how to maintain a marriage. Scores of other folks encourage divorce.
Amid this cacophony of voices, the Bible provides us with refreshing clarity. The Bible has a lot to say about marriage. We can approach the topic from many angles.
We hope here you’ll discover what the first few pages of the Bible tell us about God’s design for marriage and his intentions in creating marriage.
Marriage Is Between One Man and One Woman
We encounter marriage in the first pages of the Bible, in Genesis, the very first book of the Bible. Genesis 1 tells us that God created male and female in the “image” of God.
Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
The idea that God made man in his image, simply put, means God created men and women with a mind for thinking, understanding, and creating, and a soul that senses an eternal, infinite Creator (Romans 1:20-21; Ecclesiastes 3:11). It’s these intangible qualities that make us human, and different from any other living creature. In addition, there’s a deeply relational component to this “image” concept.
The Bible makes it clear here that God intended these humans to be different from anything else he had made.
It’s also clear from this verse that God describes men and women as different creations in and of themselves, yet in their essence, both have the stamp of God’s image. This means man and woman have equal value and agency from God’s perspective—that’s how he created them!
Further, God took this man and this woman and put them together in the special relationship we call marriage. Let’s look at what the next chapter of Genesis says about this.
Marriage Is a Relationship Like None Other
Genesis 2 reveals God’s impetus to create marriage. After Adam finished naming all the living beings God had created, Genesis 2:20 tells us “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him” (ESV). Adam needed a companion! God put Adam to sleep and took out his rib, from which God made woman. When Adam saw her, he rejoiced, saying,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23 ESV)
Adam finally sees something like him. Adam recognizes this with relief: “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Remember, he had just finished naming every other living creature. He hadn’t found one like him (Genesis 2:18-20). In a sense, isn’t this what we feel as we approach marriage today? Here, at last, is someone with whom I can share my life, my heart, and my soul.
Imagine Adam’s joy as God brings Eve to him. Think of all the creatures God had created. Yet, Adam knew instantly that this woman was God’s special creation just for him. Here, at the beginning of the Bible is the very first marriage!
These verses in Genesis also clearly set out the Bible’s definition of marriage: a man leaving his family and becoming a faithful companion to his wife. For Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (ESV). From this verse we understand that a married man and woman are more than just companions. “One flesh” means more than sexual union—it’s a coming together of heart and soul.
Note here, that God didn’t create another man to share a relationship with Adam. Rather, he took from what he’d already made and formed a new creature, a woman, who shared the bone and flesh of the man as well as the precious image of God.
While it’s clear that the physical characteristics of man and woman make bodily union possible, could it also be that the woman fits with the man symbolically as the “rib” he is missing? Clearly, God intends for the marriage relationship to be a union that provides completion and complementarity that only man and woman can secure.
God Intends A Special Purpose for Marriage
God had a specific idea in mind when he created the man and the woman. In Genesis 1:28, after describing the creation of male and female in God’s image, the Bible goes on to say: “So God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth'” (ESV).
One of the couple’s tasks was to rule or “have dominion” over the rest of creation. That is best understood as the stewardship of resources and the task of caring, creating, and working.
Unique to the marriage relationship, however, is the “be fruitful” mandate. For the first man and woman, it was good and necessary to populate the earth. This continues to be God’s intention: to “multiply” and “fill” the earth. In short, God wants us to have children! He even created us as male and female to take physical pleasure in so doing, within the confines of marriage. In this intimacy, we are given the profound privilege of creating another being, just as God has created us.
Yet many of us know married couples who are unable to have children. For many, this is heartbreaking. We are to love and encourage these brothers and sisters. We’re called to bear one another’s burdens. If you or someone you know is unable to have children: You’re not failing God. He loves you and plans to use your marriage for his glory and he gave you that precious relationship for your joy. He hasn’t forgotten you. God can do miracles (1 Samuel 1-2; Genesis 21:1) and accomplish what doctors say is impossible. He can also still use your marriage to offer an oasis of family relationships to others and to encourage the flourishing of God’s image in each human being. Or perhaps God is calling you to consider adoption, for he loves the orphan and calls us to share that same love for the fatherless (James 1:27).
God’s Marital Ideal
The Bible offers us a clear and simple definition of marriage, one man and one woman, united together as faithful and intimate companions for the purpose of reflecting and multiplying the image of God in the world.
Psalm 33:11 tells us that “the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (NIV). Although we see this marital ideal frustrated by sin all around us due to Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3, God has not changed his design for marriage.
The idea of marriage laid out in Genesis 1 and 2, this unique and intimate relationship, also points us to Jesus Christ in a special way. God created it as a mysterious symbol of a much deeper love.
The New Testament has much to say about this deeper meaning of marriage. Let’s look at that in the next article.