The sanctity of marriage
God’s pattern for marriage wasn’t devised by Adam; as the traditional marriage ceremony states it, “Marriage was born in the loving heart of God for the blessing and benefit of mankind.” No matter what the courts may decree, or society may permit, when it comes to marriage, God had the first word and He will have the last word (Heb. 13:4; Rev. 22:15). Perhaps the Lord looks down on many unbiblical marriages today and says, “From the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:8). His original plan was that one man and one woman be one flesh for one lifetime.
God had at least four purposes in mind when He performed the first marriage in the Garden of Eden. First, He wanted suitable companionship for Adam, so He gave him a wife. He gave Adam a person and not an animal, someone who was his equal and therefore could understand him and help him. Martin Luther called marriage “a school for character,” and it is. As two people live together in holy matrimony, the experience either brings out the best in them or the worst in them. It’s an opportunity to exercise faith, hope, and love and to mature in sacrifice and service to one another for God’s glory.
Second, marriage provides the God-given right to enjoy sex and have children. The Lord commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This doesn’t imply that sexual love is only for procreation, because many people marry who are beyond the time of bearing children; but the bearing of children is an important part of the marriage union (1 Tim. 5:14).6
A third purpose for marriage is to encourage self-control (1 Cor. 7:1–7). “It is better to marry than to burn with passion” (v. 9, nkjv). A marriage that’s built only on sexual passion isn’t likely to be strong or mature. Sexual love ought to be enriching and not just exciting, and marriage partners need to respect one another and not just use one another. Throughout Scripture, sexual union outside of marriage is condemned and shown to be destructive, and so are the perversions of the sexual union (Rom. 1:24–27). No matter what the judges or the marriage counselors say, “God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb. 13:4, niv).
Finally, marriage is an illustration of the loving and intimate relationship between Christ and His church (Eph. 5:22–33). Paul called this “a great mystery,” that is, a profound spiritual truth that was once hidden but is now revealed by the Spirit. Jesus Christ is the Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45) and therefore a type of the first Adam.
Adam was put to sleep and his side opened that he might have a wife, but Jesus died on a cross and His blood shed that He might have a bride, the church (John 19:33–37). Christ loves the church, cares for it, and seeks to cleanse it and make it more beautiful for His glory. One day Christ will claim His bride and present her in purity and glory in heaven (Jude 24; Rev. 19:1–9).
When Adam saw his bride, he burst into joyful praise (Gen. 2:23), as though he were saying, “At last I have a suitable companion!” (The niv sets this apart as a poem.) Her identity as “woman” would remind everybody that she was taken out of “man,” and the term “man” would always be a part of “woman.”7 She was made from him and for him, and he needed her; therefore, they will always belong to each other and lovingly serve each other.
Adam didn’t speak the words recorded in verses 24–25. They are God’s reflection on the event and His enunciation of the principle of marital unity declared by Adam. Woman is one with man both in origin (she came from man) and in marriage. In the sexual union and in their children, the man and woman are “one flesh.” Marriage is a civil relationship, regulated by law, and should be a spiritual relationship and a heart relationship, governed by the Word of God and motivated by love. But marriage is basically a physical relationship. The man and the woman are not primarily “one spirit” or “one heart,” as essential as those things are, but “one flesh.” Hence, the importance of “leaving” the former family and “cleaving” to one’s mate (Eph. 5:30–31), the forming of a new relationship that must be nurtured and protected.
The phrase “one flesh” implies that anything that breaks the physical bond in marriage can also break the marriage itself. One such thing is death; for when one mate dies, the other mate is free to remarry because the marriage bond has been broken (Rom. 7:1–3; 1 Cor. 7:8–9; 1 Tim. 5:14). In Matthew 19:1–9, Jesus teaches that adultery can also break the marriage bond. Under the Old Testament Law, anybody who committed adultery was stoned to death (Deut. 22:22–24; John 8:3–7), thus leaving the innocent mate free to remarry; but this law wasn’t given to the New Testament church. It appears that divorce in the New Testament is the equivalent of death in the Old Testament and that the innocent party is free to remarry. However, sins against the marriage bond can be forgiven and couples can exercise forgiveness and make a new beginning in the Lord.
5 In Matthew 19:10–12, Jesus made it clear that not everybody is supposed to be married, although most people expect to be married and probably want to be married. Singleness is not a curse. God gives people different gifts (1 Cor. 7:7) and calls people to tasks commensurate with their gifts. In the church, neither gender nor marital status determine spirituality or fellowship (Gal. 4:26–29).
6 The Song of Songs magnifies the enjoyment of married love and says nothing about conception or children. In ancient Jewish society, it was considered a disgrace not to have children; yet many fine marriages were not blessed with offspring, and such is the case today.
7 The Hebrew says, “She shall be called ishsha because she was taken out of ish.” Scholars aren’t agreed on the significance of ishsha as derived from ish. Perhaps it’s a parallel to the words adam (man) and adama (ground) in 2:7 and 3:19. Man was made out of the ground; woman was made out of man.
Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Basic, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1998), 42–45.