Introduction to the Course


I’ve entitled the course “The Doctrine and Practice of Marriage” because the Bible speaks about marriage, as about most things, both in the indicative and the imperative and relates the one to the other. How one conducts himself or herself in a marriage has a great deal to do with what marriage is, what it is for, how it came to be, and so on.

Along the way I want to deal with the origin of marriage, its place in the divine economy of human life, its purposes, the way in which it was corrupted by the entrance of sin, the laws governing marriage and, perhaps even more important for a group of evangelical Christians, the Bible’s technique for marriage: that is, the practice of married love, biblical headship and so forth. So, with not nearly enough time for a subject so vast and so materially significant to everyone’s happiness, we begin at the beginning.

Genesis 2:15-25

The relationship between Gen. 1 and Gen. 2. Gen. 2 is like a panel, a blow-up on a state roadmap, giving more detail of the highly populated areas.

The significance of placing marriage here in the account of creation is manifold. But chief among the implications is that the order of creation is the foundation of the order of law. God governs human life in consistency with the nature of that life as he made it. Therefore, marriage is consistent with creation; other forms of sexual union are not and so must fail. You lose humanity when you lose marriage (or Sabbath, etc.). Humanity was made for marriage, without it cannot prosper. God’s laws regarding marriage are simply how humans must behave to be happy and good given the nature of mankind as God made it.

2:18: 1. The significance of “not good” after all the “goods” of chapter 1. The differing definitions of the human race in Bible and modern feminism. The implication here is that man alone was inadequate; he needs the woman. She completes both him individually and the human race in the world. As we already knew in anticipation in 1:27. But the divine observation that something is not right in his creation is certainly startling and draws attention to man’s need for the woman. 2. “Helper“; not a slur – of God often, e.g. Ps. 121:1-2; 124:8 “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth” – but, unquestionably a term suggesting order, as Paul in 1 Cor. 11:8 “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” Also 1 Tim. 2:13. Remember, alien as these ideas may be to our culture today, we are being told the nature of man and woman as they were created by God. One cannot escape this nature however hard one tries! 3. “suitable” The compound prepositional phrase the NIV translates “suitable for him” is literally “like opposite him.” It is found only here in the Hebrew Bible, but scholars say that the notion of complementarity more than identity seems to be meant, as, if he meant to say “a helper identical to him” he would have used a more natural expression. [Wenham citing Delitzsch, 68] This is a wonderfully significant statement, of course, and explains a great deal of our world and our experience as human beings. Men and women, at one and the same time, are not mirror images of one another, and yet were made for each other. They are unlike one another in just those very ways that make them capable of attraction, partnership, and union at the deepest level. Human beings have always known this, of course, however impolitic it may be to admit it in our day. It is why men and women are perpetually fascinated by each other and why from earliest days there is a special attraction growing in to a deep longing for a member of the opposite sex. They were made for one another in the deepest and truest sense of that statement. Their Maker made them for one another. It is true anatomically, of course, that men and women complement one another: that complementarity is what makes procreation possible, though there is much more to sexual complementarity than just functionality. The perpetual interest of men in a woman’s form and shape is another example of this, but it is true of sexuality at even the deepest psychological levels. But it is true in every other way as well, as the poets have always known, though the churlish feminists now want to deny. Men and women were made for one another physically (not just sexually but in all manner of physical ways: think of the way in which it is so natural for a man to have his arm around a woman or for a woman to be drawn inside the arms of a man), emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and in every other way.

Vv. 19-20. But man’s need is not yet made up. The point of the exercise of naming the animals (that has some significance apart from its place in the history of marriage) is to bring Adam to the recognition of his need as the end of v. 20 demonstrates. (Illustrations: a man buying his little son a train set long before he can appreciate the gift! You don’t let your little children play with, even wash your fine china.) The man discovers that he is alone. He never knew that till now. Before all was new, beautiful, exciting, satisfying. Imagine it: the creation perfectly fresh and nothing but good in your heart. And still he needed a woman and could in that pristine sinless world to be brought to a sense of longing for her! What marriage is! Now he knows that there is no other partner for him and that all the other creatures have partners!

Vv. 21-22. And so, with Adam prepared, God creates the woman. Adam falls into a deep sleep (God’s ways are mysterious and not for human observation). It is anesthetic no doubt (see how the wound is closed up afterward), but also to imagine the man awake would certainly destroy the charm of what is clearly intended to be a most beautiful story. “From the rib” As far back as the medieval theologian, Peter Lombard, there has been this beautiful reflection on the symbolism of a woman being taken from a man’s side. (Sent. L.II, Dist. Xviii: De formatione mulieris”: Mulier de viro, non de qualibet parte corporis viri, sed de latere eius formata est, ut ostenderetur quia in consortium creabatur dilectionis, ne forte si fuisset de capite facta, viro ad dominationem videretur preferenda; aut si de pedibus ad servitutem subjicienda.”)

“He brought her…” “Whom God has joined together…”

V. 23. “now” is one of the most important words in this narrative and the NIV has mistranslated it. I don’t like to criticize the Bible that you read and have in your hands, but all translations are imperfect and the NIV is no exception. The proper translation is “at last” or “now, finally.” The RSV and NEB capture more of the sense of the term here with their translation, “Now, at last…” (For example, when Leah conceived Levi – Gen. 29:4 – she said, “Now, at last, my husband will become attached to me…” In 30:20, after bearing to Jacob her sixth son, Leah says “This time my husband will treat me with honor…” The idea of succession in time is present in all its uses. Here the idea is of longing fulfilled, the end of waiting.

You will notice that we have poetry here! This is an ecstatic utterance on the man’s part, an indication of his blissful state of mind on waking up, finding next to him a creature who obviously is precisely what he has been brought to long for. He knows he not just another version of himself and he is immediately in love!

“bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” is the way the Hebrews said “flesh and blood.” (The NIV translates the same phrase as “flesh and blood” in 29:14 where Laban greets Jacob and acknowledges that he is a family relative.) That is, a kinsman, the closest of human relationships. Now, remember, this history is being written to explain the world of mankind. Adam can say of Eve in a direct and physical way that she was of his own bone and flesh, but the point is that it will be so of every husband and wife (nb v. 24 which is about marriage, not about Adam and Eve, but is built on the case of the first husband and wife). And that is what is so remarkable about marriage: it takes two people of completely different families and makes them the same family, the closest possible of all relations. [Much that we are doing in our public policy nowadays works precisely against this. Marriage has become such a tenuous relationship and can be so easily undone that it resembles more concubinage than true marriage. So the practice of women keeping their names at marriage. It is an assault on the nature of marriage as making the two a family, relatives in this deepest sense. In a family everyone has the same last name!]

Now the man names the woman. “Naming” is an act of sovereignty. Man subdues and controls with language. All education is subduing by language. We control by labeling, which shows we understand a thing’s nature, properties and characteristics. This is true in all disciplines. It accounts for the jargon each discipline develops, whether literature or chemistry. A university is a name factory. The man’s naming of the woman, while confessing her shared nature with him and so her equality with him, indicates his position of superiority over her. This is, then, a celebration of an equality with difference.

“For this reason…” Now we have not Adam but the narrator, applying the principles of the first marriage to all marriages. “Forsake” is understood relatively, of course. A man might very well continue to live in or near his father’s home in ancient Israel. What is more, the rest of the Bible indicates that he has continuing obligations to his parents (remember the Lord’s remarks about “hating” one’s father and mother in Luke 16:26). A man’s priorities and most fundamental loyalties change when he marries. A more striking point in the ANE where filial duties are more sacred than they are any longer in the West.

“And cleave to his wife” lit. “stick to his wife.” The phrase suggests both passion and permanence. Shechem’s heart “stuck to” Dinah’s in 34:3. You will notice by the way that the man leaves first then is united: marriage first, then sex.

“One flesh” means many things and suggests many more. But the main point here is that marriage creates a family. You will notice in the incest laws in Lev. 18 and 20 the principle of the kinship-of-spouses is illustrated again and again. Since a woman becomes, at marriage, a sister to her husband’s brothers, a daughter to her father-in-law, and so on, she cannot normally marry any of them should her husband die or divorce her. The kinship established by marriage are irrevocable, not terminated by divorce or death. A powerful assertion of the fundamental place of marriage in human society and of marriage as the organizing principle of that society.

So, we have marriage at the very beginning of the history of mankind in the world. And what is it. It is a relationship between a man and woman who have been made precisely so as to be the partner of one another, a relationship characterized by delight, by fulfillment of longing and need, by permanence, and by its fundamental role as the first and foundational relationship of human society, to which all others submit in time.

This is the Bible’s doctrine and practice of marriage in a nutshell. Some of the other major texts on marriage will refer back to this text, indicating that everything is already here. Our Lord will in talking against divorce; Paul will in expounding the relationship between husband and wife. We will try to draw out the meaning in coming weeks.