On the Definition of Marriage

Recently in the halls of social media, a question came up regarding whether sleeping next to someone was a sin. As the hypothetical went, the couple were not having sex, not married, and had no intentions of engaging in pre-marital sex. Additionally, no one else knew so there was no appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22). After working through the foolishness, but not sinfulness of the situation, and allowing for the fact that lust could arise, it brought up the question in my mind concerning the nature and definition of marriage. Not so much as defined between a man and woman, though we will get to that, but whether or not marriage can be either defined or regulated by the State. In other words, who says you’re married and when. The starting point for this is of course God, bringing up the natural question of whether marriage is an institution of the State, or an institution created by God, and then whether there is any relationship between the two.

As Christians under the authority of God’s Word, we rightly know that marriage was the first institution following upon the creation of man (ground) and then woman (from man). Turning to the creation account from Genesis we find that God created the canvas upon which His creatures would dwell in the first three days and followed this with each individual kind of creature, the crown jewel of which was man on Day 6.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26-27

Of note in this general account on the creation of man is that they, meaning both man and woman, were created in the image of God. While we won’t necessarily look at that particular aspect here, it is important to think about God as He had revealed Himself then, e.g. Creator and Sovereign, in combination with the calling first given to man to be fruitful and multiply and then to take dominion, “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.” Genesis 1:28 Man was not created as a god, nor to be a god, rather in the image and likeness of the God, which means he was created as a representation and representative of God on earth; a kind of vice-regent.

In the second chapter of Genesis, in which God recapitulates the creation of man, we have more details as to the individuality of man and woman as well as the beginning of some distinct roles. In Genesis 2:15-20a, we find Adam given the responsibility to work and keep the garden (a priestly role), receiving the commandment from God (a prophetic role), and naming the living creatures that God had made (a kingly role). However, Adam is alone, and this is not good (Gen. 2:18) so God declares that He will make a helper for him. The meaning of the word for helper has been debated and even translated varyingly as help, helper, and help-meet followed with “fit for him”. The interpretive tension can be seen even in these translations. Is woman a help or helper? And what is a help-meet? Adding to this, a footnote in the ESV for the translation “a helper fit for him” says “a helper corresponding to him”. Generally, the word for help here (ezer) designates divine aid, for example as in Psalm 20:2; 33:20; 70:5, et.al. In these cases, it can be material or spiritual assistance. The second part, “for him” (neged), could also be translated as to him, or corresponding to or even, straight in front of perhaps even as a mirror. In other words, woman was created to be fully complimentary to man and a necessary partner (spouse) to fulfill their calling of being fruitful, multiplying, and taking dominion. Pressing further, man was “help-less”, apart from woman, to fulfill what the Lord had commanded.

In order to fill this void with a compliment to man, the Lord puts man into a deep sleep and subsequently takes a rib from man’s side and forms woman from it. Thus woman (ish-shah) was taken from man (ish). Gen. 2:23 This brings us to our concluding verses which lay the foundation for understanding the origin of marriage.

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:24-25

With the summary statement above, following up on the role of man, the creation of woman, and the expectation for how they would fulfill God’s purpose and calling, we arrive at the definitive statement on marriage. First, we note the expectation that this would be a perpetual pattern as the man would leave his own father and mother. Adam, of course, had his origin with the Lord, so this statement is a summary for how marriage was to be defined going forward. Second, we see that marriage is between a man and woman. Here the same word for woman used earlier (ish-shah) is instead translated as wife. This decision is based on context and is actually translated more often as wife than woman in the KJV. Third, there is a leaving and a cleaving. The former relates to the man’s leaving of his own father and mother in order to start his own family with his wife, unto who he cleaves. This word carries the idea of being glued together. We use a common phrase for this in saying they are, “glued to the hip”. Fourth, we find that despite being created separately, though both in the image of God and woman from man, the two individuals become one flesh. It is not difficult to understand how God designed this arrangement biologically, but the two would also be united in their entirety, meaning of one body, mind, and spirit, to become one.

Writing in his exposition of the Old Testament, Unfolding Covenant History, Homer C. Hoeksema comments on this God-ordained marital relationship in the following description:

…the man alone is quite helpless. He is not complete. He cannot reflect in his life the covenant life of God. He is in need of a companion to fill his life. The very term “help meet for him” refers to a companion, a second being like unto himself who in every respect fills and complements his own existence; the woman is the other part, the “other half,” the counterpart of man. Like the man, she is a human being, yet she is not a mere duplicate of man. She is most closely related to him, yet she is not another man. She differs from him in such a way that she fills his existence, supplements him, is one whole with him. This is true not only in the physical sense but also in the psychological sense, and it ought to be the case spiritually as well. This also signifies that one woman fills the life of one man. Polygamy is a violation of the very ordinance of creation, as is also adultery.

Hoeksema, Homer C. Unfolding Covenant History, pgs. 98-99

Clearly thus far we have seen that the institution of marriage is completely and solely the creation of God in order to fulfill the calling and purposes of man that He had given. In the next post we’ll crystalize this more and then ask what role, if any, the State has with respect to marriage and how this relates to us today.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Christian saved by grace through faith.

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