Marriage is an important issue in the Christian life. Vast numbers of books, magazines and marriage counseling resources are dedicated to the subject of marriage preparation and marriage improvement. A search of Amazon.com turned up more than 20,000 books on overcoming marital problems and improving communication in marriage.
But have you ever wondered what the Bible has to say about marriage? A quick search reveals more than 500 Old and New Testament references to the words “marriage,” “married,” “husband,” and “wife.”
Christian Marriages Today
According to statistical analysis done on various demographic groups, a marriage starting out today has about 41-43% chance of ending in divorce. Research gathered by Glenn T. Stanton, Director of Global Insight for Cultural and Family Renewal and Senior Analyst for Marriage and Sexuality at Focus on the Family, reveals that evangelical Christians who regularly attend church divorce at a rate 35% lower than secular couples. Similar trends are seen with active Catholics and active mainline Protestants. In contrast, nominal Christians, who seldom or never attend church, have higher divorce rates than secular couples.
Stanton, who is also the author of Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Postmodern Society, reports, “Religious commitment, rather than mere religious affiliation, contributes to greater levels of marital success.”
If a genuine commitment to Christian faith will result in a stronger marriage, then perhaps the Bible really does have something important to say about the subject.
What Does the Bible Says About Marriage?
Obviously, we can’t cover all 500-plus verses, so we’ll just look at a few key passages.
I hope you will read the selected verses with an open mind, consider the analysis, ask your own questions of the heart, and then come to your own conclusions.
Genesis 2:18, 21-24
The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’…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. The man 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.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (NIV)
Here we see the first wedding. We can conclude from this account in Genesis that marriage is God’s idea, designed and instituted by the Creator. In these verses we also discover that at the heart of God’s design for marriage is companionship and intimacy.
Marriage was designed for companionship and intimacy.
An Illustration of Marriage
For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of his body, the church; he gave his life to be her Savior. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives must submit to your husbands in everything.
And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife. No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. And we are his body.
As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. (NLT)
The picture of marriage expands into something much broader, with the husband and wife relationship illustrating the relationship between Jesus Christ and the church. Husbands are urged to lay down their lives in sacrificial love and protection. And in this safe and cherished embrace of a loving husband, what wife would not be willing to submit to his leadership?
Different Yet Equal
1 Peter 3:1-5, 7
In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands, even those who refuse to accept the Good News. Your godly lives will speak to them better than any words. They will be won over by watching your pure, godly behavior.
Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty … You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God … In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat her with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. If you don’t treat her as you should, your prayers will not be heard. (NLT)
Some readers will quit right here. After all, “husbands taking the authoritative lead in marriage” and “wives submitting” are not popular messages in today’s world.
But this illustration of marriage typifying the relationship between Christ and the church adds further encouragement for wives to submit to their husbands, even those who don’t follow Christ. Although this is a difficult challenge, the verse promises that her godly character and inward beauty will win over her husband more effectively than words.
If we’re not careful, we will miss that these verses highlight the equal partnership of husbands and wives in God’s gift of new life. Though the husband exercises the role of authority and leadership, and the wife fulfills a role of submission, both are equal heirs in God’s kingdom. The roles are different, but equally important.
The Purpose of Christian Marriage
1 Corinthians 7:1-2
… It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. (NIV)
This verse suggests that it is better not to marry. Those in difficult marriages would quickly agree.
Throughout history it has been believed that a deeper commitment to spirituality can be achieved through a devoted life of celibacy.
Clearly this verse refers to immorality in sexual relations. In other words, it is better to marry than to be sexually immoral. But if we elaborate the meaning to incorporate all forms of immorality, we could easily include self-centeredness, greed, wanting to control, hatred, and all of the issues that surface when we enter into an intimate relationship.
Could one of the deeper purposes of marriage be to make us confront our own character flaws, the behaviors and attitudes we would never have seen nor faced otherwise? If we allow the challenges of marriage to force us to confront ourselves, we will be applying a spiritual discipline of tremendous value.
I believe God designed marriage as an instrument to make us more like Christ. In his book, Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas asks this question, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” Is it possible that there is something much more profound in the heart of God than simply to make us happy?
Can we lay down our own ambitions to love and serve our spouse? Through marriage we can learn about unconditional love, respectful honor, and how to forgive and be forgiven. We can see our shortcomings and grow from that insight. We can develop a servant’s heart, and draw closer to God. As a result, true soul happiness can be discovered, and this, I believe is one of God’s ultimate desires and purposes for designing the covenant of marriage.