In the beginning: God’s original plan for marriage
This article appeared originally in Wineskins, February 25, 2022.
When Jesus sparred with the Pharisees in Matthew 19 over their question about divorce, he indicated that the answer lay “in the beginning” (19:8). From the creation God had a plan for human marriage, but in their insensitivity toward their wives these religious leaders had set themselves in opposition to God’s original design. According to Jesus, two passages from Genesis 1 and 2 hold the key: the making of humankind as male and female (1:27) and the summation of God’s intent about marriage in 2:24. Jesus attributed both of these, not to the writer of Genesis, but to God (“the Creator”) Himself (Matt. 19:4).
So, what can we learn from the account of the forming of the first couple that can help us in our marriages today? The answer is told as Genesis 2 unfolds.
Even after the magnificent act of fashioning a living human being out of the dust of the ground, God’s work lay unfinished. Having concluded no less than seven times that His creation was either good or very good, as he looked at the man without a companion, for the first time He said, “It is not good” (2:18). When He established the marriage relationship by creating a female counterpart for the man, God finished His creation. In the act of making the woman and bringing her to her life’s companion, God brought the creation from incompleteness to completeness.
While hierarchy and role differentiation will eventually enter the picture, neither is present in Genesis 1 or 2 in the discussion of the pre-fall state of this man and woman. The key idea here is “companionship” or “mutuality.”
The story of God’s bringing together the first man and woman to be a married couple is both beautiful in its simplicity and profound in its possibilities. Following the example set by this first couple, key elements of God’s plan for all future marriages are right here in this story.
First, there is purpose provided by shared work. Before He fashioned the man’s companion, God had given the man work to do (2:15). Therein lay part of the problem. It was lonely work, and the man needed someone to help him with it. However, the woman was no assistant in Adam’s work, like an apprentice. She was a helper. The writer uses a word for helper that in the Old Testament usually refers to God. As the Psalmist said, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1-2). Here the woman is this man’s companion to help him in his work. What a beautiful image of the companionship of a married couple who are in sync with each other.
Next, there is the cure for the man’s loneliness. It was God’s empathy toward the fact that the man was alone that led him to create a companion for him in the first place (2:18). So the operative word expressing the Creator’s intent is “companionship.” This explains the man’s exuberant outburst when he first saw his counterpart: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (2:23).
Finally, there is intimacy, especially sexual intimacy. Even in Genesis 1 in God’s blessing of the male and female with the task to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” there is a reference to the one-on-one union of individual males and females (married couples) that will bring about that multiplication. Then, how more intimate can this couple’s bond be than that brought about by her being formed from a part of him (2:21-22)? Further, in the author’s summation of the meaning of the story of the first married couple for all future marriages, he refers to the sexual intimacy of “becoming one flesh” (2:24). Finally, so comfortable was this couple with each other sexually that they were not embarrassed by their nakedness (2:25). This certainly is the story of an individual man and woman in their relationship with each other, rather than one about men and women in general.
But there’s one final chapter in this story, and it was written by Paul in Ephesians 5. His use of Gen. 2:24 captures a meaning below the straightforward literal interpretation of the verse. In the manner of allegorical interpretation (“mystery” – Eph. 5:31-32), Paul finds a sense so profound that it elevates God’s view of the importance of the marriage of a man and a woman even higher. By asserting that Gen. 2:24 refers to Christ and the church, he is using human marriage, as designed by God in the beginning, as the exemplar or model for our understanding of the relationship between Christ and the church.
It is not surprising, then, that the chapter Paul writes about the marriage relationship brings us right back to the mutuality at the beginning of marriage. The Christian husband and wife are to submit themselves to each other out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). In a world that had long since lost the mutuality enjoyed by the first couple brought about by the elevation of the status of the husband over the wife, Paul brings Christ into the picture as the exemplar for the husband’s behavior. How could a husband dominate his wife or put his needs above hers or do the other things so common in the post-fall world if he had an inkling of what Christ did out of love for his church? Paul brings us full circle, back to Genesis 2 and the beauty of marriage as God designed it.
So, Christ is the model for Christian husbands, and human marriage is the exemplar for the relationship of Christ and the church. This truly is a beautiful mystery, and it takes us back to our beginnings in Genesis 2 and God’s original plan for marriage.