The Biblical Basis for Marriage

Genesis 2:18,24; Matthew 19:4‑6; 1 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:31  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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I will begin by quoting from the traditional marriage service, some parts of which may sound familiar. For centuries English speaking Christians have paid lip service to its contents. It has been, despite man’s inconstancy, broadly accepted as the Christian view of marriage. For all its uncertain history and associations it contains a good deal of truth.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honorable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and His church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with His presence, and first miracle that He wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honorable among all men: and therefore, is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of His holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.
The foregoing is from the Solemnization of Matrimony from the Church of England Book of Common Prayer. This book has represented the official liturgy of the Anglican Communion since 1662. Though attempts have been made to revise it, the changes have never been ratified; for that, the approval of the parliament of the United Kingdom is required. This is not to say that there aren’t alternatives; the 1980 Alternative Service Book and the 2000 Books of Common Worship provide updated ceremonies. Not surprisingly, the modern versions weaken the original. For example, all references to fornication have been removed; such is the nature of modern theological relativism.
It is not my intent to endorse the Book of Common Prayer, 1662 or otherwise. Surely the very notion of formalized rituals is contrary to the Word of God, not to mention a priestly caste to administer them. Nevertheless, I find it remarkable that such teaching exists within the folds of this denomination, especially given the hostility with which it would be received by many of today’s members. Rituals cannot and do not preserve; books of liturgy will not uphold the truth. We must rest wholly on the Word of God.
It may not seem very interesting or particularly exciting to review the biblical basis for marriage in a book on finding a spouse. Nonetheless, it is essential if we wish to gain the correct perspective on the subject. It is the foundation upon which all else rests.
God’s Plan in Creation
“The LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him  ...  Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:18,24). It is immediately clear that God’s order in creation was for a man to have a wife. Their relationship would be a special one, going beyond mere companionship; they would be one flesh. It was to be monogamous, else we would read of wives. What we find in Genesis predates the law by more than 3000 years. When the Lord Jesus came, some 1500 years after the law of Moses, we find Him quoting the same scriptures to His disciples: “Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:4-6). And again, in this present dispensation of grace, the Apostle Paul quotes from Genesis: “What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith He, shall be one flesh” (1 Cor. 6:16). “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh” (Eph. 5:31).
It is clear from the verse in Corinthians that, in part, the expression one flesh implies a sexual union. God chose to create men and women to be sexual creatures with sexual desires. He has also made it clear that such desires are only to be satisfied in the marriage relationship. “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2). God’s plans are not arbitrary and man is not wiser than God. Clearly this is one area where men and women flaunt their so-called liberty today. We do not need to look for proof in society to see the destruction that this causes, though I believe the evidence is clear. No, we must rest upon God’s word and His wisdom. Surely the engineer knows the inner workings of the machine he designed; no less the Creator His creature.
God’s order, as established in creation, still stands; nothing about it has changed. These aren’t legal ordinances established by the Mosaic Law, for they clearly predate it. When the brethren met at Jerusalem to discuss the position of Gentile Christians with respect to the law, they offered this sentence: “We write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20). This isn’t a summary of Christian conduct, but rather, they were necessary directives to the Gentile peoples of that day among whom these things were accepted behavior (Acts 15:28).
God created Eve to be Adam’s help and counterpart. The expression help meet in the Hebrew, as in English, is two words: the first means help; the second could be translated, as his opposite. Eve was Adam’s perfect counterpart — not that she was to become this, but God created her to be this. God created the female to be the perfect compliment for the male. It is not a question of superiority or inferiority; the wife is not a second-class citizen. However, God did anticipate different roles, different needs, and different temperaments. Despite these differences, the male and female, by God’s design, answers exactly to the needs of the opposite sex. This complementary function extends to multiple facets of married life.
Since we are discussing God’s plan for marriage in creation, it is necessary to touch briefly on the subject of headship — more will be covered later. This is important, for it says a good deal about the sort of men that we should be. It also says much about the traits a woman should look for in a husband. For those men reading this booklet, it should be made clear from the outset: headship is about responsibility and not privilege. “The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.  ...  Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.  ...  Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:3,9,11). These verses, from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, spell out the basis for the man’s headship. It also beautifully brings in the complementary relationship of which I have been speaking between the husband and the wife.
As we have observed, the marriage union is a sexual one. The fruit of such a relationship are children. God intended children to be raised within the confines of a marriage. This is the order that God has established. “I will therefore that the younger women marry  ... ” and then they “ ...  bear children” (1 Tim. 5:14). Any other notion is entirely foreign to Scripture. Children are to be a blessing and a heritage, not the unplanned product of desire. “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is His reward” (Psa. 127:3).
Children are to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). On their part, they are to “hear the instruction of [their] father, and forsake not the law of [their] mother” (Prov. 1:8). The family setting should be warm, caring and nurturing for the child, one where the love between the parents is evident. If we put our own selfish needs before the commitment of marriage, the home environment will be a fragile one.
Families hold a unique place in God’s sight. Throughout Scripture we see God blessing families. It is important that we seek to follow God’s plan for marriage for the sake of our children and the family unit as a whole. It should be our desire to bestow upon our children a godly heritage.
Love and Mutual Comfort
Eve was created as a help meet for Adam. Though I have indicated that this goes beyond companionship, it most certainly includes it. It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Gen. 2:18). As a man, this world would have been a lonely place for Adam without Eve. “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes” (Song of Sol. 1:15). The Hebrew word used for love in this verse is actually female companion; it is the feminine form of friend. This is an important point to observe; the one we marry should be our friend — this, I believe, is God’s plan.
We read concerning Isaac and Rebekah: “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Gen. 24:67). Rebekah was a comfort to her husband. On the other hand, when we come to the story of Elkanah and Hannah, we see Elkanah being a comfort to his childless wife: “Unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the Lord had shut up her womb” (1 Sam. 1:5).1 “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:9-12).
Scripture is perfectly clear that marriages are not to be loveless affairs. We read, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). Even the wife is exhorted to love her husband — or more specifically, to be a husband-lover. “Teach the young women to be sober, to love2 their husbands, to love their children” (Titus 2:4). Many have pointed out that love is an action, not a feeling, and that is certainly true. However, I don’t for one moment believe that God intended for it to be an emotionless action. That would be an extraordinary thing. If we truly love someone, then their interests will be our interests, there will be empathy towards that person, the things that please them will also please us, and it will be our desire to honor them.
Christ and the Church
So far the Biblical authority and purposes for marriage that we have looked at — God’s order in creation, the establishment of families, and for mutual comfort and companionship — spring, by and large, from our temporal needs. There is, however, something that is of a far greater character than anything that we have considered so far. “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:29-32).
Marriage should reflect something of the character of the spiritual union between Christ and the church. In these verses, the expression one flesh brings before us a different thought; it speaks now of the physical body and the care that is shown toward it. Nobody ever neglects their own body — we feed it, wash it, treat it, clothe it — some more so than others! Such also is the care of Christ for His body, the church, and such should be the care of the husband for his wife (Eph. 5:28-29).
We also read, in connection with Christ and His church, that He is “head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:22) — notice that it says to the church rather than over the church. To understand the distinction, think again of the natural body. The head coordinates all activity; the brain receives stimuli, for example pain, from other members of the body and guides and directs the whole to respond accordingly. When the spinal cord is severed, the body does not die — the heart, liver, and so forth, keep functioning, albeit imperfectly for the body is paralyzed; it can no longer receive direction from the head. Neither the church nor a marriage will flourish when in such a state of paralysis.
A functioning marriage is a living organism; two acting together as one, with the husband providing the headship. They act, not for their own selfish needs, but as a reflection of the love and grace that Christ has poured out upon His church. They are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). Of course, I speak of a Christian marriage — a marriage in the Lord. Though I mention two acting together, in such a relationship there will in fact be three; the Lord Himself will be an integral part of the marriage. One has likened this to a triangle with the Lord at the apex; the closer the husband and wife are to Him, the closer they will be drawn together. “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:12).
This aspect of marriage should make us stop and think. There is a bigger picture here. Marriage is not about my needs; furthermore, it is not simply about his needs and her needs; there is something more that God wishes to accomplish in a marriage. Though I have taken up that which is natural first, as we reflect on the spiritual side of things, we begin to realize that this should be the driving force behind the relationship. We do not pretend to neglect the natural, but it will take on a different, and, I would suggest, a correct perspective, when we live for the spiritual.
A final point needs to be made: Scripture closely links marriage and the church. Time and time again we find church truth, and behavior within the assembly, connected with marriage and the family. The two are inseparable. Again, I would reiterate the importance of being clear as to the assembly before entering the marriage relationship.
1. Elkanah made things difficult for himself and Hannah by having two wives, contrary to God’s plan; this was undoubtedly a source of Hannah’s grief. Peninnah was probably Elkanah’s second wife; he perhaps married her because Hannah was barren.
2. The Greek word used in Titus is from phileo and not agapao; she was to show affection; husbands and children are not always very likeable!