Marriage—the formal union of male and female in an exclusive relationship—is respected and practised all over the world. But did you ever wonder how, across so many cultures and religions, and despite geographical separation and passing millennia, that marriage everywhere is much the same? There isn’t a culture, regardless of its religion, politics or history, in which the institution of marriage doesn’t exist in some recognisable form.
In Buddhist Mongolia, for example, marriage is the fibre that holds families together. In Hindu India and Nepal, where arranged marriages are the norm, the marriage bond and the esteem in which it is held are much stronger than in the West, with its freedom and individuality. In Russia and China, despite Communism’s atheistic influence, men and women still marry and live within an institution whose recorded origin is in the Bible’s story of the Garden of Eden, where it was both defined and instituted by God.
The Creation story is described in the first three chapters of the book of Genesis. It tells us what happened after God had made animals: “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’ . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26, 27). On that day, God also said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). God made both man and woman in such a way that neither is complete without the other. Also, one of the primary purposes of marriage is procreation. God “caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (verses 21, 22).
When Adam awoke and saw his companion, he said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (verse 23).
The tie between the man and his wife was to be so strong, so enduring, that the next verse concludes: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (verse 24). This was the first marriage, and the only one officiated by God Himself. This makes it the model on which all marriages are to be based. Clearly, then, marriage between a man and a woman is part of God’s plan for humankind.
Unfortunately, since then, the human race has tried to improve on God’s model marriage—and we’ve suffered the consequences. God gave to Adam only one wife. But soon men changed the number, taking several wives. Jealousies between the wives and rivalries between their offspring often spoiled the joy and harmony God intended for marriage. Divorce also entered the institution as a way of escaping a life-long contract.
Jesus, centuries later, commented on divorce. When questioned about the legality of divorce (see Mark 10:6–9), He asked, “What did Moses command you?”
“Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and send her away,” His questioners responded.
To which Jesus pointed out that “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law. . . . But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ” Then He added that familiar nuptial refrain: “ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
Jesus clearly sanctioned marriage by performing His first miracle at a wedding. Marriage is so special that Revelation uses it to describe Christ’s relationship with His followers: He is the husband, the church is His bride. In Revelation 19, 20, 21 and 22, He variously describes Himself coming back to earth to receive His pure “bride.” Obviously, this analogy only works when Christ’s “marriage” is understood in the light of God’s original, ideal Eden model.
Marriage is clearly a biblical and religious institution, thus the Christian’s wish to preserve it in its biblical ideal form.
God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” As the Mastermind of Creation, God designed us with a heart to love. Love doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If true love is to be experienced, it must be shared. Knowing this, of course, God created the woman, who would stand at Adam’s side as a “help-meet,” as the King James Bible so quaintly puts it. She would help him to reach his highest and noblest aspirations.
God gave Adam and Eve rulership over His creation. He said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over . . . every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28).
It was God’s design that humans bring children into the world through a love relationship between mum and dad. Dad was physiologically and mentally tuned to be a provider and protector of his family. Mum had special gifts, some obviously biological for nurture and others psychological for loving care. When this biblical model of marriage is followed, it results in well-balanced offspring, who will benefit society.
Unfortunately, we live in a self-centred world, a society where many people want relationships without commitment. That won’t improve a marriage. Look at our fractured families and the social and economic fallout they cause. We’ve gone from the occasional divorce of 50 years ago to a current divorce rate of around 50 per cent!
Marriage is essentially a Christian, Bible-based institution, but one enjoyed around the world for thousands of years. It is the union of husband and wife. It is the Bible that defines marriage, not governments, neo-culture or a lobby group.
And rather than an amendment to the marriage act—or any government-ordained law regarding our relationships, for that matter—what society really needs is an amendment to the way we act, by living according to the Bible.