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The Definition of Marriage

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What is marriage? On a subject like this, definitions are as important as false definitions are a threat. But as we define, we have to take care that we do not define as good little abstractionists. Biblical knowing, especially concerning marriage, is not a rarified exercise.


18And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. 19And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 20And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. 21And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; 22And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 23And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. 24Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. 25And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed (Gen. 2:18-25).


God has repeatedly called His creation good, but when He comes to the solitary male, He says it is not good (v. 18). Immediately after this, God brought all the beasts and birds to Adam to see what he would call them, and Adam had the privilege of naming the animals (v. 19). But in the process of naming all the animals, Adam found no helper suitable for him there (v. 20), meaning that Adam shared God’s sentiment that it was not good for him to be alone. And so the Lord God threw Adam into a deep sleep, removed a rib from his side, and closed the flesh back up (v. 21). God took that rib, fashioned it into a woman, and brought the woman to the man (v. 22). And then we find the first recorded words of man, and they are a poem, a poem concerning his wife. “Bone of my bones . . .” (v. 23). Then follows an (apparent) decree from Adam on how it will be for his descendents. A man will leave his father and mother, cleave to his wife, and they will be one flesh (v. 24). And the man and wife were both naked and unashamed (v. 25).


The creation was filled with goodness. When God created the light, it was good (1:4). When He created the earth and sea, it was good (1:10). When He fashioned the reproducing herbs and trees, it was good (1:12; 2:9). He made the sun and moon, and it was good (1:18). He filled the oceans and sky with teeming fish and birds (1:21). When He made all reproducing animals, after their kind, it was good (1:25). The gold in the earth was good (2:12). Viewing all of it, God said that it was all very good (1:31).

Now notice the strong element of separation in all this goodness. Light divided from the dark was good (1:4). God divided the earth from the water and it was good (1:9). The herbs and the trees dividing (after their kind) was good (1:12). God made the sun and moon to divide the light from darkness, and it was good (1:18). God made the fish and birds to divide (after their kind), and it was good (1:21). He divided the animals after their kind also (1:25).

But Adam was unitary, undivided. So God looked at him and said that it was not good for him to be alone. So God put him into a deep sleep, and divided him into two pieces. God then took the second piece, made it into a woman, and brought her back to him in order to heal the division. God made one into two in order to change those two back into one. In a Trinitarian world, unity divided and division unified are good. The two alternatives are unity, period, or fragmentation, period.


St. Paul develops this theme in the New Testament. “For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man . . .  Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God” (1 Cor. 11: 8-12). For just as the first woman was divided from the first man, so every man since has been divided from his mother. But all things are of God.


Man can name what God has done. But man cannot get God to name what man has done. In short, marriage is woven into the nature of all creation, and is consistent with it. Man has no authority to defy nature. Nor does he have authority to accelerate history. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a good tree (2: 9; 17; 3: 22)—it was under the universal pronouncement of God (1:31). But it did represent yet another division, from which Adam was held back, being not yet ready. So what then is marriage? Marriage is a form of death in separation and resurrection in union. And the bond that ties division and union together is covenant.



We see marriages all around us. But what are they?


Review Question:

What is a wife?

            She is the fullness of her husband.


Catechism Question:

What is marriage?

            Marriage is separation and union.

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