Chapter 25: Of Marriage
What is marriage? Between how many persons is it? Is it only between a man and a woman? For what purposes did God institute marriage? May Christians marry unbelievers? Who may we marry?
§1 Monogamy Between One Man and One Woman
- Marriage is to be between one man and one woman; neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband at the same time. 1
- Gen. 2:24 with Matt. 19:5-6;1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6; Mal 2:15
Marriage is a life-long covenant between a man and a woman wherein God is a Witness (Mal. 2:15). It is a life-long vow (see here on Oaths and Vows). In marriage, the man and the woman call upon God as a Witness to the vows that they make to each other and bind themselves by the vow, in presence of God, to be faithful to each other. Marriage was instituted by God in the Garden, before the Fall on day six. The Lord wanted to find for Adam a mate, so He brought to him all the animals, yet “for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:20). Therefore, the LORD put Adam to sleep and made a woman from his side. The Lord created a human with the same nature as Adam's, yet, different character and with different parts which compliment each other. Then we read:
Gen. 2:22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
Herein we have the institution of marriage. Adam had finally found someone like him and yet at the same time not exactly like him. The mate of Adam was to be “a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18, 20). She was to help and assist Adam, completing him. The various translations of this phrase all communicate the idea that Eve was not inferior in being to Adam, but was created to compliment him and complete him. In a sense, Adam was not yet whole without Eve. Verse 20 is translated as follows:
||a helper fit for him
||companion corresponding to him
||companion who corresponded to him
||a helper suitable for him
||a help like to himself
||helper...as his complement
||an help meet for him
||an helper -- as his counterpart
Adam and Eve were created equally, Adam was not superior in being and value to Eve. But the authority was given to Adam even before the Fall over Eve, yet this authority was not because Adam was superior in being. Albert Barnes notes on this phrase that it meant "an equal, a companion, a sharer of his thoughts, his observations, his joys, his purposes, his enterprises.” Matthew Henry's observation is well-known:
That the woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved. Adam lost a rib, and without any diminution to his strength or comeliness (for, doubtless, the flesh was closed without a scar); but in lieu thereof he had a help meet for him, which abundantly made up his loss: what God takes away from his people he will, one way or other, restore with advantage.
This Hebrew word in vv. 18, 20 means “'as over against,' 'according to his front presence' - i:e., corresponding to, his counterpart-one like himself in form and constitution, disposition, and affections, and altogether suitable to his nature and wants.” Matthew Poole likewise notes:
Meet for him; a most emphatical phrase, signifying thus much, one correspondent to him, suitable both to his nature and necessity, one
altogether like to him in shape and constitution, disposition and affection; a second self; or one to be at hand and near to him, to stand continually before him, familiarly to converse with him, to be always ready to succour, serve, and comfort him; or one whose eye, respect, and care, as well as desire, Gen 3:16, should be to him, whose business it shall be to please and help him.
Adam Clarke's words concerning v. 18 are likewise of profit to note:
I will make him a help meet for him; ezer kenegdo, a help, a counterpart of himself, one formed from him, and a perfect resemblance of his person. If the word be rendered scrupulously literally, it signifies one like, or as himself, standing opposite to or before him. And this implies that the woman was to be a perfect resemblance of the man, possessing neither inferiority nor superiority, but being in all things like and equal to himself. As man was made a social creature, it was not proper that he should be alone; for to be alone, i.e. without a matrimonial companion, was not good. Hence we find that celibacy in general is a thing that is not good, whether it be on the side of the man or of the woman.
The woman in the same time was to be like Adam and also unlike him in some ways. He was not to marry someone exactly like him, but one who has likeness unto himself, but also differences. Before the creation of Eve, there was only one Adam and after the creation of Eve, there was only one Eve. When the Lord brings her to Adam and Adam sees that she was the one who completes him, there the Lord joins them in marriage and Adam bursts out in poetry:
Gen. 2:23-24 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Adam has finally found in the woman “a helper fit for him.” Therefore, Moses, the inspired author, observes that this was the basis of marriage in v. 24. Charles J. Ellicott said "the simplest interpretation of this declaration is that the inspired narrator was moved by the Spirit of God to give this solemn sanction to marriage, founded upon Adam’s words. The great and primary object of this part of the narrative is to set forth marriage as a Divine ordinance.” The coming together of a man and a woman who were complimentary to each other forms the basis of marriage. In v. 24 we may also observe the three parts which constitute marriage. 1) leaving father and mother, 2) holding fast to one's spouse, and 3) becoming one flesh.
The first has the main point of being independent from your parents. When you get married you no longer are under the authority of your parents as you were. You become independent and start your own house. You are still required to honor them, but now you are starting your own family. You become independent from them and learn to live on your own. At this place, Calvin makes a good observation:
The sum of the whole is, that among the offices pertaining to human society, this is the principal, and as it were the most sacred, that a man should cleave unto his wife. And he amplifies this by a superadded comparison, that the husband ought to prefer his wife to his father. But the father is said to be left not because marriage severs sons from their fathers, or dispenses with other ties of nature, for in this way God would be acting contrary to himself. While, however, the piety of the son towards his father is to be most assiduously cultivated and ought in itself to be deemed inviolable and sacred, yet Moses so speaks of marriage as to show that it is less lawful to desert a wife than parents. Therefore, they who, for slight causes, rashly allow of divorces, violate, in one single particular, all the laws of nature, and reduce them to nothing. If we should make it a point of conscience not to separate a father from his son, it is a still greater wickedness to dissolve the bond which God has preferred to all others.
The second point concerns the complementary nature of the relationship between the wife and the husband. They hold to each and they stick together. John Gill writes, "and shall cleave unto his wife; with a cordial affection, taking care of her, nourishing and cherishing her, providing all things comfortable for her, continuing to live with her, and not depart from her as long as they live: the phrase is expressive of the near union by marriage between man and wife; they are, as it were, glued together, and make but one; which is more fully and strongly expressed in the next clause:”
The third point concerns their becoming one, especially in sexual intercourse. Physically they are two, but spiritually they should become of one mind and one soul. This also points to the inseparability of the man and woman in marriage. They become one and therefore it is not lawful to disjoint them by divorce. This is what our Lord said based on citing Genesis 2 in Matthew 19:5-6. Moreover and most importantly for the purpose of this paragraph, we see in this the monogamy of marriage. There was only one Adam and one ...