Apologetics,  Church,  Ethics,  Old Testament

What is Marriage?

We are in the midst of a time where terms are being redefined to suit one’s own purpose. However, if we want to think rightly and accurately about an issue, we need to think in terms of the definitions laid out in God’s Word. Nowhere is this more evident than in the question, “What is marriage?”

picture of marriage rings

In contrast to how marriage would have been defined even 10 years ago, the first search result of the question, “What is marriage” (Psychology Today) defines marriage as follows:

Marriage is the process by which two people make their relationship public, official, and permanent. It is the joining of two people in a bond that putatively lasts until death, but in practice is often cut short by separation or divorce.

Notice how marriage is defined here. Marriage is simply two people making their relationship (which already exists) public. This cultural definition of marriage is in stark contrast to how God defines marriage in Genesis 2:24:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

Within this brief verse there are three important observations which help us define marriage properly.

Marriage is a complementary relationship.

The phrase, “For this reason” in Gen 2:24 is actually better translated, “Therefore” (ESV). It is a Hebrew phrase which is meant to logically connect with what precedes it. In other words, the reason man and woman join together (in verse 24) is because of verses 18-23.

Gen 2:18-23 show how God has designed woman to complement man. Man was not designed to be alone, rather, woman was formed from his own body so that he would have a helper “fit for him” (v. 20c). By showing all of the male and female animal pairs to Adam, God impressed upon Adam’s mind the need for his own female counterpart (vv. 19-20).

When God created the woman, she was unmistakably his counterpart (v. 23). Hence, God’s design for marriage is a complementary relationship between one man and one woman.

Marriage is the unique and foundational relationship on earth.

Gen 2:24 explains that, because of the complementary relationship of marriage, “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife.” The two important aspects here are the setting aside of the obligations of the current family situation, and the creation of a new family and new obligations.

The leaving and joining language here is absolute in the sense of one relationship is set aside for the creation of a new relationship. In other words, there is no turning back from marriage.

The new family becomes the central focus for the life of both the man and the woman. It becomes the unique relationship which is unlike any other relationship to those two individuals. That marriage relationship has the priority over any other relationship.

Marriage is an intimate and unique relationship.

The reason the new family becomes central to both the man and the woman is because they are now, “one flesh.” This includes both sexual union as well as the underlying principle of unity. In other words, marriage is more than sex, but it is not less. [Note: I am stating this as a normative principle. I fully acknowledge that some factors such as medical problems may prevent some couples from enjoying normal sexual intimacy.]

The marriage relationship is designed to be the most intimately unifying relationship on earth. Although husband and wife retain individual capabilities and capacities, their identities are now unified in one another so that what affects one must now affect the other. Individual desires are sacrificed for the enjoyment and betterment of one another. It is a wondrous design.

So, What is Marriage?

By putting together the pieces of Genesis 2:24, we see that God himself created marriage. Marriage is designed to be a complementary relationship between one man and one woman, providing a unique and foundational institution for the flourishing of society. Further, the husband and wife couple their talents and passions through the intimate and unique relationship that marriage facilitates in pursuit of glorifying God. In a day and age where society continues to try to force us to redefine marriage in a non-biblical way, remember, God’s Word has already defined marriage—and to be honest, that is the only definition that matters.

photo credit: PhotKing ♛ via photopin cc

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

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